ROAD TEST: Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 LS 5-dr
Ride comfort is an often underrated and overlooked aspect in the automotive universe.
I've lost track of how many times I've read about cars that had their chassis fine-tuned after extensive Nurburgring torture. Road holding is important, but is it really worth all the hype?
If we're talking hot hatch or anything vaguely sporty then fair enough. But in an ordinary hatch like the Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 LS, which was built to tackle the everyday grind with all of its speed humps and pot holes, a good ride is what qualifies as impressive.
And after putting this hatch through a semi-long-term test over December and January, that's what's really standing out for me as I piece together this road test. This Chevy lives up to its name with a truly excellent ride quality.
From the humungous speed humps in my suburb to the quick highway dash to the coast, numerous rural roads and at least two punishing dirt roads that formed part of my chaotic holiday schedule, it always gave me reason to praise its compliant ride.
This despite using a simple torsion beam rear axle design. The suspension is clearly set up for comfort, but there was little to complain about the road holding - it's safe and predictable.
The ride comfort's just one aspect that adds to its refined nature. The cabin is quiet and well insulated and it's all bolted together very decently as those previously mentioned dirt roads failed to illicit any creaks or rattles.
This Chevrolet was really built to Cruze.
Well, at least in the case of overseas models. You see, the local range-topper is fitted with a normally aspirated 1.8-litre 16-valve engine. It looks healthy enough on paper, with 104kW on tap at 6200rpm and 176Nm at 3800rpm. It even sounds rather sporty when you give it a rev, which will be often.
You see, whereas its less-powerful - but turbocharged - German rivals can put on a good sprint, this engine feels sluggish at altitude and its five-speed gearbox really needs to be worked when speed is required. A sixth gear would also come in handy as the Cruze is a bit too undergeared for highway cruising.
There is a perfect engine solution in the GM stable in the form of the 1.4-litre turbopetrol motor that's already found in the local Opel Astra line-up. It's time to downsize and up-boost, Chevrolet…
One area where Chevrolet has made some proper improvements is in the cabin. I drove one of the early sedan models a few years ago and the hard plastic and cloth on the dashboard made it seem lost somewhere between strange and cheap.
But the dashboard materials are a lot better in the latest Cruze hatch and it's a decent place to pass time - particularly when fitted with the optional leather seats. I could also find no fault with the build quality, although I find the overall design a bit boring.
The cockpit is functional and easy to operate in most ways and the only two ergonomic gripes I had were the ill-positioned fan speed button that I kept knocking with my knee and the lack of a footrest, which makes slogging through traffic more of an effort.
Spacious, refined and comfortable, the Cruze hatch makes a fair amount of sense - if only GM would sort out the performance by going the turbocharged route.
And though I like the fastback shape of this five-door, I reckon designers could seriously add some spunk to the front and rear styling.
Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 LS (103kW) - R228 200
Ford Focus 1.6 Ambiente (92kW) - R218 900
Hyundai i30 1.6 Premium (95kW) - R237 900
Kia Cerato hatch 2.0 SX (115kW) - R222 995
Opel Astra 1.6 Essentia (85kW) - R231 000
Renault Megane 1.6 Dyn (81kW) - R224 900
Toyota Auris 1.6 XS (97kW) - R228 600
VW Golf 1.2 TSI Trendline (77kW) - R233 800